A quick trip to South Dakota provided everything I could want in a Wild Wild West-themed adventure and then some. I took home a rock from Crazy Horse Memorial, roamed with the buffalo at Custer State Park, posed with the presidential statues in Rapid City, hiked the Badlands, and picked George Washington’s nose from afar at Mount Rushmore. But shockingly enough, one of the most impactful (and random) takeaways from my visit was a reinterpretation of Italian cream soda concocted by Katlyn Svendsen, a member of the state’s tourism department, who invited journalists like me to experience everything the Midwest destination has to offer.
Within hours of arrival, our group was fascinated to find the inventor herself taking a can of flavored sparkling water, chugging a few sips, and then topping it off with her favorite brand of almond milk creamer. That’s it…painfully and almost comically simple, yet so smart.
Of course, this is a less sweet, dairy-free alternative to a traditional Italian cream soda, which is made with club soda, crushed ice, sugary syrup, and two kinds of cream (heavy and whipped). Syrup flavors can even be tailored to individual preferences, ranging from fruit and nuts to chocolate and vanilla.
Anyone is, by all means, welcome to use a sweet base (or even a sweetened creamer) to preserve its integrity, but Svendsen’s lighter beverage proved to be a hit with everyone as both a refreshing quencher during laborious outdoor activities and a creative departure from basic bubbly H2O.
When asked about her beloved brew, Svendson said “once the flavored sparkling water trend hit, I had to figure out a quick and convenient way to enjoy it along with everyone else.”
This foray into beverage ingenuity came as no surprise for the busy mom, who revealed that she forgoes caffeinated beverages in favor of sparkling water.
“We love to be outdoors and in remote locations, so running into a local coffee shop to get an Italian soda isn’t a reality in my world, “ she said.
“I also don’t love carbonation. So a bit of creamer jazzes it up for me, cuts the fizz, and creates something magical.”
Svendsen has even become a bit of a tailgate barista: She keeps a variety of flavored sparkling waters in her SUV’s cooler so that friends and family members can enjoy the summertime sipper during sporting events and neighborhood get-togethers.
But what are her preferred cans and bottles? Waterloo’s black cherry with any almond milk-based creamer.
“LaCroix is most readily available where I live, so I drink a fair amount of that, too, and typically a berry flavor with a vanilla creamer,” she divulged. “I [also] recently discovered Evian’s sparkling water and I enjoy some vanilla creamer in their grapefruit basil flavor. Coffeemate’s Natural Bliss almond creamer or an oat creamer pour in beautifully.”
Of course, I had to ask the South Dakota expert for her favorite regional dish (Italian cream soda and the former Sunshine State don’t quite go hand in hand when it comes to local food and drink culture).
“Chislic,” she shared without hesitation. “Oh my gosh — it’s pure magic and a very ‘South Dakota thing’ that is delightful.”
“Chislic was first mostly found in southeastern South Dakota and was traditionally made with lamb. Today, it is found in bars across the state and is typically beef,” she added, describing the state’s signature skewer. “The best correlation is steak tips. The meat is in small bite-sized pieces, highly seasoned, and cooked (typically fast-fried or grilled) quickly to remain tender. People often dip it in either a steak sauce, ranch (because hello, Midwest), or aioli.”
So the next time you find yourself in South Dakota, order a plate of chislic and cheers to it with an Italian cream soda (Svendsen-style, of course).